What are the dos and don’ts of supplemental lighting in the chicken coop?
- Make sure that your pullets are at least 20 weeks of age before introducing any artificial lighting in the coop. Why 20 weeks of age? Because 20 weeks of age is the normal age for chickens to start laying.
- Use an automatic timer so you can ‘set it and forget it’, and to establish consistency with your lighting efforts. It’s recommended to have the timer turn the light on early in the morning until sunrise. For example, if the goal is to provide 15 hours of light during the day when sunset is at 6pm and sunrise at 7am, the timer should turn the light on at 3am and off at 7am.
- A general guideline from most people, for a small coop of roughly 100 square feet, one 40–watt A19 LED bulb with reflector (because the light needs to be directed downward to the floor) placed 7 feet above the chicken coop floor in the center will provide enough light. For a larger coop of 200 square feet, a 60–watt bulb can be used. However, Terry Golson of HenCam says a 40– or 60–watt bulb is plenty. You might use Christmas lights, as suggested by The Chicken Chick. For a discussion of other light choices, watch the recording of the webinar Lighting for Small and Backyard Flocks by Dr. Michael Darre from the University of Connecticut.
- Regularly check the light-control timer and make sure the light is turned on for the appropriate length of time and the correct light intensity.
- Keep light bulb clean for light quality. A dirty bulb can decrease light output by as much as 15–20%, so clean the bulb at least once a week.
- Make sure the light bulb doesn’t come into contact with your hens and has no way of falling or touching anything flammable.
- Check your wiring frequently for signs of rodents gnawing at it.
- Don’t make a sudden switch from zero supplemental lighting to several extra hours every day. Have patience and do it in staggered manner. Increase 15 minutes each week (some recommend 30 minutes per week) until you reach a combination of natural and artificial light totalling 15 hours per day. Research shows that chickens lay best when they receive about 15 hours of light daily. Anything more than 15 hours may stress out the hens and depress production.
- Don’t use Teflon-coated bulbs, as these give off toxic fumes.
- Don’t use fluorescent lights because fluorescent lights flicker on and off roughly 120 times per second (yes, 120 — too fast for the human eye to notice). Chickens have a special receptor called a double–cone that scientists believe helps them detect motion, and because of that, chickens can see the flicker that comes from fluorescent lights, so that may bother them.
- Don’t leave the light on all night; chickens need their hours of darkness the same as we do. Chickens do need 6–8 hours of darkness in each 24–hour period to allow them to rest and keep their immune systems healthy. So, putting the light on a timer is helpful.
- Don’t turn the light on after dusk and then turn off to suddenly plunge the chickens into darkness in the middle of the night — chickens cannot see once it is dark and they’ll be stuck on the floor of the coop, unable to make it up onto their roosts.
There are always two sides to everything. Supplemental coop lighting also has its pros and cons:
- Egg laying is a stressful affair for hens. Even humans get time off from their jobs; why not chickens? Forcing your hens to lay with supplemental light could potentially shorten their laying years. In the words of Tim of the poultrykeeper.com:
“Since a hen is born with all of the eggs she can produce in her life already inside her, if you intend to keep your hens for their entire life then you aren’t gaining anything in the long run by providing extra light for them, but you will be able to get a supply of eggs during the winter months.”
However, over at The Chicken Chick, Kathy Shea Mormino asked Dr. Mike Petrik, a chicken veterinarian in Ontario, Canada, his opinion of the following two questions about supplemental light in the hen house:
- Does supplemental lighting harm a hen or shorten a hen’s lifespan? (short answer=NO)
- Will supplemental lighting cause a hen to run out of eggs prematurely? (short answer=NO).
Head on over to Kathy’s blog post at The Chicken Chick to read Dr. Petrik’s in-depth replies to the questions.
- If something flammable comes in contact with the bare hot bulb or insecure wiring, it can potentially catch fire. (This is the #1 reason why heat lamps are not recommended to be used in the coop to heat the chickens in the winter. Every year chickens are lost because the heat lamps catch the coops on fire.) My Pet Chicken suggests use of solar-powered coop light or battery-powered tap-light to avoid the risk of a chicken coop fire from wiring electricity.
- If you have a small flock of chickens, installing lighting is just not worth it. Terry Golson of HenCam mentions that lighting might only be economically worthwhile for flocks of over 100 hens. But, Terry adds that if you have a small flock of say six hens (under two years of age), providing supplemental lighting in the chicken coop is still well worth it. The key phrase here is “under two years of age”.
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